Friday, September 26, 2008

BUCK-STOPPING

Over on Salon, Glenn Greenwald reports that the Army is permanently assigning a Brigade Combat Team to “NorthCom”, the new military command responsible for deploying troops domestically, i.e. inside the United States itself. (http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/09/24/army/index.html).

The troops will be using suppression equipment recently developed to subdue ‘persons’ non-lethally. Of course, they would presumably also be available to help out in floods and fires, but somehow I don’t see them fighting brush-fires in Southern California or rowing boats in floods or standing around guarding property after a particularly big hurricane.

Among senators who voted for this enhanced degradation of the already-gutted Posse Comitatus statute – the military cannot deploy forces against the citizenry, an idea We got after having put up with King George III sending redcoats and Hessians (think Blackwater with pointy hats) among Us back in the 18th century – was Ted Kennedy. Not to single the gentleman out, but it strikes me that his vote is symbolic of the danger posed to Us by the so-called Left, by the (no-longer) ‘liberal’ elements in the national government, and by their recently constructed National Nanny State.

There has been a traditional fear of an authoritarian take-over of the United States from within. Historically, it was imagined that it would either come from the American communists and socialists or from the ‘rich’ who feared the ‘rule of the mob’ and – more specifically – having to share the wealth that they had amassed (not often through prayer, good works, and a life of exemplary Christian virtue). In the late 19th century, troops of the National Guard (as it was then constituted) or federal troops were sent to put down labor agitation and protect the property of corporations and of the great magnates of the First Gilded Age.

The construction of the National Security State starting in the late 1940s raised the theoretical possibility that the national government would actually deploy the military domestically in order to prevent ‘communist’ agitation among traditionally disaffected groups (workers, ‘negroes’).

Ironically, it was a Republican president, and former five-star general, Dwight Eisenhower, who sent the Army back into the South during the civil-rights struggles of the 1950s, in order to protect the ‘negroes’ from the official depredations of Southern law enforcement bent on maintaining Jim Crow. Cocky Southron cops suddenly lost their swagger and choked on their chaw when faced with armed combat columns deployed in assorted military vehicles that had last seen similar service advancing down the highways and byways of Hitler’s crumbling Germany less than 15 years before. And there in the South those columns were moving down roads that had last seen military action when General Sherman’s army – among others – came marching through, singing their Republic’s battle-hymn.

But Eisenhower’s deployment was made only after it became brutally and consistently clear that local Southern government was – to put it charitably – not up to the task of enforcing the laws that were passed to protect the rights of ‘negroes’ almost a century before, following the South’s not-winning the Civil War. It wasn’t as if the South had been blind-sided by any new-fangled laws suddenly and slyly passed without public attention. A very concrete federal promise to the nation’s black citizens, made 90-plus years before, was finally being fulfilled – and nobody (except perhaps the long-suffering Southern blacks themselves) had any claim to being surprised.

But that was then.

Nowadays, We have some claim – but only some – to being surprised. And not by local government, but by the federal government. As part of its long surrender of its fundamental prerogatives as the core Branch of government, Congress now permits the deployment of troops – although, of course, We shouldn’t worry and should Just Trust Them – or Just Trust the President. That’s worked so well for Us recently. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, the economy, 9/11 itself, the Military Commissions and military law … mah mah mah, a stunnin’ record of resoundin’ success indeed. Lawdy, lawdy.

Now the Southerners have pretty much taken over the military, abetted by their fundamentalist chaplains whose essential theological illumination is that if there’s an American-flag patch on the shoulder than whatever is done is God’s will, and whoever disagrees is an agent of Satan. As if the Divinity spoke His mind as clearly as Goring when he took over the German police: “Henceforth, a bullet fired from a police revolver is to be considered my bullet”. Ach, let us to pray, ja?

Maybe there was nobody else. After 30 or 40 years of the Identities deconstructing any ‘traditional American’ identity common to all of Us, it was only the Southerners who kept any sort of palpable tradition of American identity alive. Of course, that tradition came heavily larded with classic Southern characteristics of small-town small-souledness, Romantic militarism, a tribalistic sentimentality so thick as to mask the violence lurking just beneath, and a fundamentalist religion that urges obedience to the powers that be and that finds a ‘patriotism’ thus encumbered to be its only sacrament. We so need more better options.

But Southern ‘patriotism’ is not the only kind there is. And while We can’t wait another couple-three decades for whatever new ‘patriotism’ was going to eventually be cooked up out of the deconstructed left-overs of Identity-politics, there are models left Us by the Founders, by Mr. Lincoln, by Martin Luther King, among others. And Mr. Eisenhower certainly gave it his best shot, though nothing is perfect. Surely there’s enough there to at least re-start the fire in Our common hearth. When We are cold, We don’t function so well. And even if We are now so poor that We don’t have more than two sticks to rub together, well – the laws of nature holding steady, that should be enough. And “Inshallah” (to respectfully quote a recent public statement of a U.S. military judge) We might experience a communal drawing-together against the darkness such as inspired the earliest generations of Our people.

But getting back to Mr. Kennedy’s support for undoing Posse Comitatus. I worry very much that it betokens more than an instance of political horse-trading or a fit of absence of mind (or character). Rather, it indicates an ominous strategic decision among not a few Democrats (the party that’s supposed to be for ‘democracy’, sorta like the name says): Let the Republicans take the heat now, and then when we’re in the White House and in control of Congress, and people finally wake up to see just how much we’ve screwed up over the decades (because it’s all gonna come out, especially if we can’t fix everything we’ve broke now), and take to the streets, then we can ‘legally’ send in the Marines to save our swag and our seats and somehow keep the party going. Neat. Certainly the type of shrewd two-fer for which Mr. Kennedy is noted. Not much on the Big Picture, or consequences, but then he’s had so little experience with such things. Shrewd tactics have served him well enough all this time.

The National Nanny State, a creature of the ‘left’, although cloaked in ‘sensitivity’ and concern for ‘pain’ is every bit as capable of violence as the National Security State. A bomb dropped in a “humanitarian intervention” kills just as surely as a bomb dropped for the sake of imperial ambitions and “oil”. The children at Waco died just as surely in the flames even though Janet Reno (later) intoned her concern that they were being ‘abused’ and thus she wanted to help; all that can be said about that assertion is that in terms of absolute numbers her ‘rescue’ didn’t kill as many children as a rescue run by the Russians – not exactly setting a high bar.

And back here at home, just how hard is it to imagine that the troops at some point in the not-too-distant future will be deployed against assumed criminals – easy targets like, oh, say, sex offenders. There – who can argue with that? And then with political demonstrators whose ideas are ‘inappropriate’ and perhaps scaring ‘the children’? After all, if soccer-parents these days approve of ‘correct’ teachers gutting fairy-tales to remove evil step-mothers, witches, abandonment, abuse, and death – well, you wouldn’t want ‘the children’ exposed to Thomas Paine on the evening news, would you? Eugene Debs? The Bill of Rights? Why expose them to all that? Better to let the troops take those ‘agitators’ and malcontents away to where the nice folks at KBR have built a special camp for them. It’s being done for the children. After all, we’re decent folk here.

And somehow thus We are back to the troops marching into the South down deceptively sunny roads all those decades ago. Funny how History moves.

They will come for a lot of Us, one fine day. Unless things are stopped now. Unless We stop them. Senator Leahy – and there are others like him – is doing his bit. And fulfilling his sworn responsibility. A ray of light in a gathering gloom from which no ‘New World’ shall come to Our rescue.

We are the New World. The buck stops here. But not the Constitution. Unless We fail.

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